Sunday, June 27, 2010

a note on high horses and the vegan delusion

"I know that all revolutions must have ideologies that spur them. That in the heat of conflict those ideologies tend to be smelted into rigid dogmas claiming exclusive possession of the truth, and the keys to paradise, is tragic." --Saul D. Alinsky, Rules for Radicals

Although we often get lumped together, vegans can be very different from one another. Some of us are militant, some low-key, some freegan, some eco-conscious, some animal focused...the list goes on. I dedicate this post to the high horse vegan (HHV).

In short, a HHV is self-righteous, or "smugly moralistic and intolerant of the opinions and behavior of others." Now, there is a fine line between developing a personal set of ethics, opinions, and disagreements...and being self-righteous. Perhaps it is even an art.

My most recent [virtual] encounter with a HHV took place yesterday. Potentially developing asthma, I am currently on a steroid inhaler to counter my lung inflammation. I've been a vegan for 2.5 years, and in the doctor's office struggling for a deep breath of air, I didn't think to talk ingredients. A couple of hours and a lot of money later, I purchased and used an Advair inhaler--which, after reading the directions, turns out to contain lactose.

Bummed I didn't inquire when chatting with the doc, I get online to google vegan asthma medication. I stumbled upon an online forum where an asthmatic vegan articulated concerns similar to mine. One of the responses came from a stereotypical HHV:

"Even if it does not contain animal products, it was definitely tested on animals. Just wheeze."

Hell to the no. First, animal testing on an approved drug already on the market is a sunk cost. Second, this commentator is living what I call the "vegan delusion." The vegan delusion is the idea that, by being a strict vegan, you do not harm animals. This is wrong. Being a vegan means reducing harm to animals where possible--not reducing all harm (which is impossible).

Why? Because simply existing necessary displaces and inevitably harms animals. Your home, your city, your beloved co-op, your yoga studio are currently situated in former ecosystems. That sustainable local farmer you love so dearly? S/he displaces animal populations by planting fields of veggies. Tractors invariably run over and kill some field animals. The list goes on.

For any human being to exist in a modern setting, some amount of animals will be displaced and/or die. As a vegan, the most you can do is reduce that number where humanly possible and where it is efficient to do so. Take my inhaler for example. Seeing as I mistakenly purchased an animal product, from an environmental/efficiency perspective, I am not going to throw away a perfectly usable inhaler. Under this same rationale, I grandfathered in my old leather products when I stopped purchasing new ones (and I am likewise comfortable with recycled leather).

If there is no lactose-free inhaler alternative, I will continue to purchase inhalers as needed. Again, as being a vegan necessarily means mitigating harm to animals where possible (as opposed to eliminating harm all together), in the matter of breathing, this is one corner I cannot reasonably cut.

Is it speciesism to value my life more than the cow tortured for its lactose? One can make that argument. However, it is not only humans that necessarily occupy space and displace others--it is all living things. Call it natural selection, call it the circle of life--whatever you'd like. I am comfortable existing and occupying space, so long as I eliminate harm where I reasonably can.

If you do avoid anything containing any trace of animal and anything ever tested on animals, that is honestly very wonderful. However, the truth is that the vegan delusion of zero harm is and will always be just that--a delusion.


Stephen said...

Can you elaborate on the "sunk cost" idea of animal testing on an approved drug?

Vanessa said...

Sunk costs are past costs that cannot be recovered.

While a food containing animal products has a continuous animal cost, as I understand animal testing, it is a discrete, finite process that occurs before the product reaches the market. Once it's done, it's done.

If the overall animal cost is continuous (cookies with eggs, chicken), then boycotting the product can increase animal welfare. If the animal cost is sunk, boycotting the product does not do anything in a socio-political landscape that might protest animal testing in cosmetics, but certainly not in pharmaceuticals.

As I understand the process, the number of animals used for testing does not vary according to the number of people buying the product. If your medication is on the shelf, the animal cost has been incurred and at that point, you can't increase animal welfare by purchasing or not purchasing that product.

It is completely legitimate to be disgusted by animal testing and avoid products tested on animals, but that is a personal and emotional decision--it doesn't rationally impact animal welfare, and self-righteously projecting that on others is the mark of the HHV.

As a side not, HHVs (like all extremes) have costs as well as benefits. While they might be agitating and further stigmatize minority groups, they also play a role in public discourse and the political process. Additionally, if compromise creates solutions somewhere in the middle, it is helpful to have a ranting extreme.

Larry said...

This is a good example of why I like you V. Even though we disagree on... everything... I still wish there were more people like you.

Looks like some of the econ talk is wearing off you whipping out that sunk cost analysis ;) thats hot lol

As for the cows... I think you are okay because of the magnitude of the harm prevented relative to the harm done... You breathing is a way bigger deal than anything that happens at any of the dairy's I have been too... it is certainly a lesser of evils... and besides who is going to lobby for the cows if you can't breath? :)

Stephen said...

I'm not seeing how animal testing is "finite" while animal harvesting is, assumedly, infinite.

I do, however, understand (and think it's a strong point) that the number of animals being tested on for medications doesn't reflect demand for that product. That makes sense -- once a product has been approved after having been tested on animals, it seems that regular testing isn't further needed. I don't know FDA standards -- how often are drugs that are already on the market tested to ensure their efficacy/safety?

However, if lactose is in the product you purchased, isn't that similar to there being eggs in a cookie? The lactose is repeatedly harvested and placed in the product that you are purchasing.

Anonymous said...

The animal testing for that particular pharmaceutical may be a sunk cost, but in purchasing said pharmaceutical, one may be incentivizing future animal testing on as-yet untested phamaceuticals.

(Please note that I am not a vegan and I don't think twice about using animal-tested anything, though I really like veganism in theory. I'm not trying to throw stones from my brittle glass house, I'm just saying that there may be other things to consider regarding impact of using animal-tested pharmaceuticals. Keep up the thought-infused living!)